LINCOLN — Any disappointment a Nebraska basketball fan might have in the development of Isaiah Roby this season can’t come close to matching the 6-foot-8 freshman “beating myself up.”
“I definitely wouldn’t say it’s gone the way I wanted,” Roby said ahead of Tuesday’s game between the Huskers (10-14, 4-8) and Penn State (14-12, 6-7). “I know I’m helping the team. But I felt like I could have made a bigger impact.”
So did Husker coach Tim Miles, who signed the four-star forward out of Dixon, Illinois.
“Isaiah is going to be a high-value guy for us,” Miles said over the summer, citing what he saw during recruiting and early workouts. “He’s going to make a huge impact. I think he’s a different, elite-level guy.”
But that was before Roby was sidelined from July to early November with a stress reaction in his pelvis. Or what he calls “the longest 3 1⁄2 months of my life.”
Downtime in that quantity, Miles said, is a big reason Roby’s averages through 24 games are 3.0 points and 2.9 rebounds, and his shooting is at 38.4 percent overall and 18.8 percent on 3s.
“In the summer, when we got to see him on a regular basis, he was really athletic and making plays,” Miles said. “He came back much more timid and lost some physicality, which is hard to get back at the start of the season.”
But signs of Roby on the rebound were plentiful in last week’s 70-69 overtime loss to No. 7 Wisconsin.
Before fouling out in 15 minutes of playing time, he had four points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Twice he made plays in the second half — a thunderous dunk and a blocked shot — that brought the crowd to life after Nebraska had fallen behind by six or seven points.
“To me it looked like he had five blocks and three fouls,” Miles said. “He really made a difference in the game. If we could have kept him in the game, I think the outcome would have been different, too.”
Roby said his contributions against the Badgers — filling the box score in multiple categories — are what Miles stressed to him during recruiting.
“He wants me to alter shots, play defense, get rebounds, find guys on offense and then get my points where they come,” Roby said. “That was a big game for us, and it was good to have a big game against a good team.
“It’s reassuring in my own mind I can do that.”
Doubt lingered early in the season after he returned to the court.
“I was frustrated with myself for not playing the way I wanted,” Roby said. “The injury did hurt my skills a little, and my feel for the game. But I feel I’m starting to find myself a little more.
“I thought I was out too long. I thought I could have come back quicker. But I trust them. They did a good job of easing me back into things.”
Miles recently has had one-on-one meetings with his players to assess development and gauge their thoughts on the future.
“Like a lot of young players, Isaiah was too consumed with how he was doing on offense, and not recognizing his value on defense,” Miles said. “Once he embraced that a little more than he would have ordinarily, I could see a little more confidence and like, ‘Hey, I could be good at this.’ “
Getting more from Roby is of continued importance for Nebraska as sophomore forward Ed Morrow (foot) and sophomore guard Glynn Watson (groin) recover from injuries.
Miles said he gave the team two days off after the Wisconsin loss, in which Watson played 38 minutes and Morrow 26. Everyone practiced Sunday and Monday, Miles said, and should be available for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are coming off victories over No. 21 Maryland and Illinois. Coach Patrick Chambers starts three freshmen who combine to average 34.2 points and 18.5 rebounds a game.
“Their athleticism is outstanding,” Miles said. “This is Pat’s best team since I’ve been here.”
Penn State at Nebraska
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln
NEBRASKA (10-14, 4-8)
C Jordy Tshimanga, 6-11, Fr., 4.6
F Michael Jacobson, 6-9, So., 6.5
G Evan Taylor, 6-5, Jr., 4.8
G Glynn Watson, 6-0, So., 14.0
G Tai Webster, 6-4, Sr., 18.0
PENN STATE (14-12, 6-7)
C Mike Watkins, 6-9, Fr., 9.5
F Lamar Stevens, 6-7, Fr., 12.3
G Josh Reaves, 6-4, So., 7.6
G Shep Garner, 6-2, Jr., 12.2
G Tony Carr, 6-3, Fr., 12.5
» Nebraska is alone in 12th place in the 14-team Big Ten, but it’s just two games out of sixth.
» NU was first nationally in strength of schedule entering this week, according to the NCAA RPI. The Huskers’ Division I opponents are 321-165 (.660), which also is first nationally. Their nonconference schedule currently is fifth, which is the stiffest in the Big Ten. The next four toughest overall schedules belong to Baylor, Louisville, Xavier and Tennessee.
» Husker guard Tai Webster is one of four players to score in double figures in each game this season. The others are Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, Villanova’s Josh Hart and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron.
» Guard Glynn Watson’s 1.8 steals per game is the best by a Husker since Cookie Belcher averaged 2.7 a game in 2000-01.